OPINION: Automatic Voter Registration: Mississippi’s chance to embrace the future

Posted on Jan 31 2019 - 5:50am by Levi Bevis

It seems that individuals of all political stripes have trouble agreeing on much of anything nowadays. Partisanship is on prominent display across all levels of government, and it leaves one wondering if bipartisanship can be attained on any issue. The issue of automatic voter registration, however, appears to be bypassing this trend and finding favor among both political parties.

Automatic voter registration is not a new concept, but it has been gaining popularity across the nation in recent years. Before the implementation of automatic voter registration in some states, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as NVRA, developed an opt-in model of voter registration in which the would-be voter had to manually indicate that he or she wanted to become a registered voter. While it did not require potential voters to be automatically added to voter rolls, it did provide citizens with the ability to register to vote when obtaining a driver’s license.

Opt-in policies became the most common voter registration process used by states across the nation, and they were the standard model used unless states enacted other registration policies such as same-day voter registration. Some states, however, decided to make this process easier.

Today, numerous states are implementing automatic voter registration laws. This process flips the tradition of opt-in voting by requiring that all citizens aged 18 or older are automatically registered to vote unless they opt-out. As of December 2018, 16 states and the District of Columbia had enacted or planned to enact such policies in the near future. This trend has been adopted in both traditionally red states, such as Alaska and West Virginia, and traditionally blue states, like California and Rhode Island. Unfortunately, Mississippi is not on that list.

So, why should this policy matter to you? Voting is a fundamental part of our democratic republic. Yet, voters aged 18-29 consistently have the lowest voter turnout of all eligible groups of voters. Despite this, studies indicate that millennials are just as interested in political processes as older generations. A possible reason for the disconnect between this political interest and young voter participation could be that our current, complicated voter registration systems serve as a barrier to voter participation. Automatic voter registration will make sharing our voices and casting our ballots much easier and more convenient, especially in Mississippi.

Mississippi would put itself on the leading edge of positive policy change by adopting automatic voter registration. This policy would strengthen our democratic institutions, make voting more accessible for everyone and demonstrate that Mississippi is committed to moving away from its history of restrictive election policies. Registering to vote can be a confusing and stressful process if you are unsure of the rules surrounding it; making this process easier is a simple, common-sense solution in which everyone wins.

Automatic voter registration is a must-have when it comes to enacting smart and responsible election laws that empower people of all backgrounds to participate in their government. States across the nation are turning to this policy, and the trend appears to be growing. It is time for Mississippi to embrace the future by updating its election laws and enacting automatic voter registration.  

Levi Bevis is a senior public policy leadership major from Florence, Alabama